Where have I been? First stop: Creative Kids Tales Festival

Illustration by Gemma Patience

Illustration by Gemma Patience

So I've been a little quiet here of late but it's all been for a good reason. I have been out there on the road (or in the air) attending writing events around the country.

Oh yeah, and I had pneumonia.  But let's focus on the writing!

Here's a little recap of the first of the events I attended, the Creative Kids Tales Festival held in Sydney in March, and organised by Georgie Donaghey in an incredibly short space of time and offering a fantastic line-up of presenters.


Suzanne Gervay was her usual energetic ball of passion, inspiration, and humour and opened the day by looking at the art of writing about difficult topics across different genres and for various age groups. Standout messages included the importance of knowing that "the very first thing you have to be, is brave," and that there is no need to shy away from difficult topics but that you need to know how they are done. The key to doing this, suggested Gervay, is achieving a balance between light and dark so that that the reader doesn't feel "the heavy hand of the topic" but instead feel the "hand of hope".  Gervay suggested a gentle approach, recommending, "throw them seeds. Kids will take the story where they need to."  Wise words from a wise writer.


Wai Chim spoke of writing from the "germ of a truth" and referred to her recently published book Freedom Swimmer, the tale of two boys who set out to swim from China to Hong Kong in search of a better life which was inspired by a true story. The author of the Chook Chook series and Shaozen shared her process of researching events and then writing with a focus on the human experience within these events.

The room was provided with a snippet of hope when the CBCA Notable author revealed that her break into publication came through the slush pile at University of Queensland Press. Wai Chim offer further inspiration by detailing how her second book came about after she spoke at a conference, and that events like the CKT festival were important as "you never know who will be there".


Tristan Bancks popped into the festival via Skype and had the room entertained talking about about his processes for writing and marketing his books.  Bancks revealed insights into his writing process and discussed his commitment to writing morning pages every day and advised of the need to protect writing time. The author of the Tom Weekly series and recent release The Fall also spoke of the importance of tapping into your skill set beyond writing, which may include experience in presenting, marketing, or teaching.  Bancks discussed the need to connect with readers such as through book trailers and having activity downloads available online. Bancks discussed a typical year for him involving seven months of writing, four months of touring and a one month holiday.


Sue Whiting encouraged tackling difficult topics in children's writing, stating that when writers take on the risk of writing about these topics, that publishers may too. Whiting offered this advice from the unique position of having written 65 books across the trade, education and novelty markets (including eight novels and seven picture books) and also having been at the helm of Walker Books as a publisher for a decade. Whiting gave examples of difficult topics handled well such as: Pearl Versus the World in which the grandmother has Alzheimer's disease, The Book Thief which features death as narrator, A Single Stone which addresses the gender and power for middle-grade readers, and A Monster Calls which is a book about love, loss and hope.


Sarah Davis spoke of her work as an illustrator using traditional mediums such as paint and pencil, along with 3D models and digital illustration. She generously shared insights into her illustration process, such using reference photos.  Davis also recommended that writers"leave room for the illustrator to breathe and tell their own story". After sharing her skill across various artistic mediums, Davis amazed the room by responding to a question from the audience about her art training by revealing that she was self-taught, largely through googling the techniques that she wished to master.



While I feel a little sheepish about it taking a while for me to write up this event, I have realised that one advantage of this is that I can see  just how much of the information I have taken on board, and how it has shaped where I am right now.

I felt encouraged to continue to write about difficult topics and I have continued to pursue an interest in writing for middle-grade readers, and I have also been motivated to continue to work on my illustration skills having heard that a fabulous illustrator such as Sarah Davis is self-taught.

I can't finish this write-up without mentioning that my gorgeous writing buddy Victoria Mackinlay signed her first book contract as a result of meeting with a publisher at the festival. I absolutely can't wait to see her wonderful story come to life.

With all of this fabulousness coming out of the festival, I am definitely looking forward to the next one!

More info?